Ultima Thule emerges as contact binary, "cosmic snowman", in new spacecraft images

03 January, 2019, 07:28 | Author: Dwayne Harmon
  • Ultima Thule

"We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time".

Dr. May has been working with the New Horizon mission's science team and told the New York Times that he was reluctant to put on his rock star hat when a colleague first requested a new song about the mission.

Ultima Thule has a mottled appearance the colour of tiresome brick.

The actual shape of 2014 MU69 (blue) compared to 2017 Earth-based stellar occultation shape estimate (red).

Now they will work to download and look through all of the data sent back over that long distance, a process that could take years.

The larger sphere is "Ultima" and measures 19 kilometres across. It's appearance, which resembles that of a snowman, beautifully illustrates the kinds of processes that created our Solar System roughly four and a half billion years ago. "These are the only remaining basic building blocks".

The color photo was then combined with the image taken by the LORRI camera (which has almost five times the spatial resolution of the MVIC) to produce a detailed image that shows the color uniformity of the Ultima and Thule lobes. Scientists speculated that it could be single, likely elongated object, or two objects closely orbiting each other. "We have far less than 1 percent of the data ... already down on the ground", Stern said.

"And I would say that just because some bad guys once liked that term, we're not going to let them hijack it", he said, prompting a round of applause from team members and guests in the APL auditorium. NASA's New Horizons mission flew by the object early on January 1, and the maneuver's science data will reach Earth over the course of almost two months.

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The mission team has made a decision to call the larger lobe "Ultima" and the smaller lobe "Thule".

A 15-hour rotation rate has also been established for Ultima Thule.

Moore said it appears the two spheres came together gently, at speeds of perhaps 1 or 2 miles per hour - not in some violent collision in space. He joked that if they were cars, "you probably wouldn't fill out the insurance form".

The new images show Ultima to be a contact binary, consisting of two separate masses that became stuck together.

The images come courtesy of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft and its New Year's Day flyby.

It's an icy world, 6.4 billion kilometres from the sun, and it looks just like a snowman. It is the first inhabitant of the Kuiper belt - the ring of rocky relics that surrounds the outer solar system - that scientists have seen up close.

During the run-up to today's news conference, a buzz broke out on Twitter over the fact that the term "Ultima Thule", which in ancient times denoted a place beyond the known world, became a part of Nazi mythology. This finding lends support to a theory of planet formation that suggests worlds are born from slow accumulation, rather than catastrophic collisions, researchers said.

This means we're truly seeing one of the first planetesimals, or objects, that went on to form planets.

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